Iraq Vets Bear Witness
July 10, 2007 1:20 PM   Subscribe

The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness. "Investigating the impact of the war on Iraqi civilians, Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian reveal disturbing patterns of behavior by US troops in Iraq--brutal acts that often go unreported and almost always go unpunished." [Via No Quarter.]
posted by homunculus (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Bob Herbert summarizes the article here: Abusing Iraqi Civilians

No Quarter also recommends this Tomgram piece on air power: Carnage from the Air and the Washington Consensus
posted by homunculus at 1:35 PM on July 10, 2007

What's even scarier is to imagine the scale of the abuse against civilians committed by almost entirely unaccountable mercenary private contractors like Blackwater. At least in the armed forces there is a court martial to fear in cases of wanton abuse.
posted by inoculatedcities at 2:00 PM on July 10, 2007

We are creating hearts and minds that will be trying to kill us for generations. And who can blame them?

""Every good cop carries a throwaway," said Hatcher, who served with the Fourth Cavalry Regiment, First Squadron, in Ad Dawar, halfway between Tikrit and Samarra, from February 2004 to March 2005. "If you kill someone and they're unarmed, you just drop one on 'em." Those who survived such shootings then found themselves imprisoned as accused insurgents."

Words fail me.
posted by bitmage at 2:01 PM on July 10, 2007

Shouldn't that be "bad cop"?
posted by kirkaracha at 2:12 PM on July 10, 2007

I don't know why, but when I first read the title of the post, I interpreted the second word as the verb, and thought, "Iraq has bears?"
posted by oaf at 2:29 PM on July 10, 2007

All so reminiscent of Vietnam. This will scar both nations for generations.
posted by A189Nut at 2:43 PM on July 10, 2007

You would have to be hopelessly naïve to be surprised that innocent civilians end up murdered, maimed, and abused after you start a war. Rape, torture, and senseless death all are bound to happen in a protracted war. I wish the people who finance militaries had more compassion for the people who live in war-zones.
posted by Human Flesh at 2:45 PM on July 10, 2007

This is pretty much exactly like every Vietnam movie I've ever seen. Why would anybody think it would turn out differently?
posted by rxrfrx at 2:57 PM on July 10, 2007

The ultimate objective of any tactical engagement should lend itself to completion of the strategy and/or the achievement of the goal. The goal of any engagement is, ultimately, to end the violence. Albeit, end it on terms that satisfy the goal.
But the only good that ever comes out of war is in its ending.
Doesn’t seem to be any design on ending anything in Iraq. The tactics seem to reflect the “mill around” strategy, or rather, lack thereof. And so does accountability, etc.
Hell, when your leaders are completely bullshitting you about even the most basic premises of the war and aren’t held accountable...
Meanwhile vets come home, talk about it, how shitty it all was, how badly war sucks, all the casualties (truth being the first), maybe run for office to try and shut the program down from the inside and get blamed for joining by one side and get swiftboated by the other. And whatever further sacrifices seem to be made in vein (e.g. Sergeant Mejía)
Doesn’t look like the U.S. learned dick from Vietnam. Apparently enjoyed all the movies though.
I’d disagree that this is bound to happen in any given engagement. U.S. troops have entered combat and done some good, accomplished the objectives and left. But that’s when there has been solid goals, clear objectives and, y’know, a plan.
I would agree tho’ that, given the circumstances in Iraq, yes, bound to happen. And that is what makes it all the more tragic.

“We are creating hearts and minds that will be trying to kill us for generations.”

Indeed, and one has to ask: is that by design? This administration has proven that its word on whatever they’re doing is no good. You have to then judge on the results of their actions. Whether incompetance or in support of some goal - we are generating more enemies.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:57 PM on July 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

A189Nut writes "This will scar both nations for generations."

Let me add this: this has completely destroyed U.S. image if there still was some american dream sentiment left it's gone, forever. Freedom of being richers and giving me poor healthcare ? Sounds good only to desperados...there are so desperados they believe they are being donated an opportunity ! This cartoon describes it well.
posted by elpapacito at 3:02 PM on July 10, 2007

They've got it all wrong. Bad cop- bad cop won't get them anywhere.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:19 PM on July 10, 2007

the most interesting part (for me) is the active involvement in this particular war of the Christian Right through companies as Blackwater. That is indeed American Fascism.
posted by Substrata at 3:46 PM on July 10, 2007

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to


For service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Rifle Squad Leader, 4th Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, First Marine Division (Reinforced), on 14 April 2004. Corporal Dunham's squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander's convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah. As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:50 PM on July 10, 2007

I want to kill all politicians.
posted by wires at 4:01 PM on July 10, 2007

"Bush went to Yale from 1964 to 1968; his highest grades were 88s in anthropology, history, and philosophy, according to The New Yorker article. He received one D in his four years, a 69 in astronomy. Bush has said he was a C student." - Michael Kranish reporting for the Boston Globe, June 2005.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Thing is, my grades weren't much better during my time in college, and I wasn't going to a fancy schmancy Ivy League college. He plays dumb very well, but I for one am not fooled. Bush ain't no dummy. He knew exactly to what he was committing this nation. So did the people who reported to him, and most importantly so do the people to whom Bush answered (and i ain't talking the american people). Bush's decisions have been in defiance of the american constitution, not in support of it.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:18 PM on July 10, 2007

“In distant war, particularly wars where Americans alone control the skies and can fly in them with relative impunity, the trade-off is clear indeed: our soldiers for their civilian dead "including women and children."”

I think the Tomgram article is a bit hyperbolic and partisan (no mention of, f’rinstance, Clinton’s use of air power) and the racism angle I’m not sure I agree with, but it isn’t bad in terms of understanding policy. The big no-no is having civilian casualties in favor of nearly any other (human or otherwise) cost. Of course, the current expediant is simply to not honor the dead or publish casualty figures.
And yes, the media hasn’t really touched on the ‘conceptual territory’ of the implication of air assaults or what they imply in terms of policy, but neither did the piece.

And indeed the piece seems to agree with the Lt. (re)quoted as saying “Our planes can blow up this whole city. They have that capability. If we didn't care about you guys, we wouldn't place ourselves in danger walking around trying to separate the bad guys from the good guys” - the conclusion of the piece is that: “If we want to "withdraw" from Iraq (or Afghanistan) via the Gates Plan, we should at least be clear about what that is likely to mean -- the slaughter of large numbers of civilians "including women and children."”

I agree that policy drives strategy which (ultimately) drives tactics, but what then is the objective? What is to be gained or lost by bombing or not bombing? Ok, air power is useful for crushing a population into submission. But submission to do what?

Change the incentives to have war - change, for example, energy policy, or the way defense contractors do business, hell, socialize the whole damned defense industry, make it ALL non-for profit and that would go a long way towards not blasting the crap out of innocent people.

Incisive as it may seem, this kind of cutting edge expose is either preaching to the choir or telling people who’ve been in war what they know already goes on.
Where so few peices connect the dots to is how and what policies translate into strategic operations.
By the time the war is underway, it’s often too damned late.
They’re asking for compassion from either the people who already have bleeding hearts, those who know it will do no damn good, or from people who have deeply vested financial interests in bombing the hell out of people. The pro-war fools blinding themselves to human compassion by ideology typically aren’t worth mention, although they are often impediments.

Racism doesn’t kill innocents on this massive a scale. No one (sane) is that motivated to kill people for those reasons. Oh, they might want to. But genocide is a hell of a lot of work, no one is going to do that for no gain other than just hate.
It’s always money, property, etc. etc. - some kind of tangible gain driving the work. The Holocaust was terrible on the human scale, but it was also one of the biggest thefts ever committed.
Racism, questioning of patriotism, religion, support the troops (in the alloy with ‘support the war/policy’ sense), blah blah blah - all those pro-war tricks are just dodges to distract people from the money being syphoned out of their system.

The argument breaks down like this: the simple fact of the matter is I didn’t particularly care about Joe Whateveristan’s plight before the U.S. bombed him. Why then should I feel compassion for him afterwards? Because it’s my tax money that made his death possible? I didn’t ask my government to bomb him. Indeed, I might oppose the war in general. Maybe strongly. Or better still I’m a pacifist and oppose war on G.P. How then is it my fault Joe Whateveristan got killed?
Well, the problem is that while I might oppose the war, I (and many others) haven’t done much to dismantle or oppose the structure which makes initiation of war possible.
And if I’m a callous bastard and I think it’s worth Joe Whateveristan’s life so I pay a few bucks less for a gallon of gas? Or I’m a machiavellian bastard and I don’t think other countries should have control over a resource which could influence policy and perhaps individual liberties?
Well, the big problem is you’re not paying much less than you would otherwise (profits and whatnot) and whether you fight the country with the resources or an enemy they direct you to fight, you’re still fighting under someone’s leash instead of for the real benefit of your own country.
Either way you’re getting lied to, and your liberties are being curtailed anyway, and that’s no way to run a republic.

And that’s the thing no one seems to want to think about, either we make major changes in how we do things or we will fall. And it will be ugly. But either way we’re facing major lifestyle changes and no one wants to be the first to break ground.
Right now seems like the people with money are hedging their bets on “fall.”
Seems logical. Poor people and common men have been rebels, but good government has always been in their best interest. So they have been rebels from principle, because they’re invested in what happens to the country. They don’t want to be governed badly. Under a lousy or collapsing government wealthy people can just split. They’ve been rebels, but typically because they’re against being governed at all rather than due to any principle.
(which, I think, somewhat echos, albeit very generally, ZachsMind’s point about Bush.)

(apologies for the length. If I was a better writer I could have stated it more in brief)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:38 PM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

ya, but no more of those saddam rape rooms homunculus.

This is all just so terrible, I don't even have any words left.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:52 PM on July 10, 2007

God, I can't even bring myself to click any one of those links. This whole thing is fucking disgusting.
posted by hadjiboy at 1:17 AM on July 11, 2007

Cool Papa Bell - I’m not sure of your point so if I infer too much please let me know. But any valor or gallantry shown by any troops doesn’t offset the crimes commited by others. There are exemplary Marines and there are lousy Marines.
In the bigger picture, while I do, and have argued against painting all individual servicemembers with the same brush because of their involvement in any given conflict, whether that conflict is justified or not, predicated on the control the civilian leadership must have of the military - so too I have to argue that even the most careful, disciplined, compassionate and self-sacrificing behavior of the troops on behalf of the noncombatant civilian population cannot legitimize a given conflict.
The use of force is still, ultimately, force, even if there is not a single instance of excess.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:09 PM on July 11, 2007

One Step Closer to War on Iran
posted by homunculus at 4:40 PM on July 11, 2007

"You're fucking famous now!"
posted by homunculus at 10:22 AM on July 12, 2007

Today's Democracy Now is all about the Nation report.
posted by homunculus at 1:40 PM on July 12, 2007

Christ, that Stan Goff is a moron, and I question your moral and intellectual judgement in posting that.
posted by Snyder at 1:41 PM on July 12, 2007

Goff is a retired Special Forces master sergeant whose experience I'll defer to to an extent, and he's obviously furious over the guy in the YouTube link. The Abu Ghraib guard who pimped the girl out until she commited suicide is the one deserving of condemnation, not to mention prison.
posted by homunculus at 2:43 PM on July 12, 2007

I have to somewhat 2nd Snyder (on Goff).
I understand he worked with the HRT (FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team). Rescuing hostages, yeah, what scumbags.
*reading the comments*
Looks like firefighters are macho assholes too, who also have it coming because they knew what they signed up for.
I’d say they’re heroes as soon as they sign up for the job which entails running into burning buildings and saving people’s lives, but y’know...

Goff sort of reminds me of the problems with being pro-gun and the wide array of nutjobs who are unfortunately on your side. You can set out rational arguments for private gun ownership, have a reasoned discussion with the opposition and there’s always some nut on your side who comes along and demands that Jesus wants us all to have guns for when the “Beast 666” tries to take over with the black helicopters, etc.
Goff reads the same way.
One can oppose the war without this “conquest-connection of late imperial patriarchy.”
Being in the 1 percent of people with experience with that culture I’d disagree with him, with the caviat that there is a wide gulf between what is said (or cadenced: “rape, pillage and burn young soldier”) versus what is actually done. If he’s counting the locker room talk as ‘culture’ well, yeah. But I understand a lot of NFL ball players psych themselves up before games, assert they will “kill them” - the other team, and so forth. Not sure there’s ever been an actual homicide during a game.

But indeed, even if he’s totally correct - if half of the people he worked with were scumbags, what about the other half?
And really - exactly what is supposed to happen?
Complete disarmament and dismantlement of the armed forces would be tough enough, but a complete reversal of the intertia of western civilization in one generation?
Kind of a tall order.
I’m not saying women don’t get shorted socially.
And certainly the militarization of society in the U.S. is a bad thing. Plenty of ways to fight that, from the access recruiters have to students to the kinds of commericals the military has on t.v. (for starters).
But it just sounds to me like Goff has some daddy issues and wants to play them out on the big stage rather than actually defining and solving problems.
Solvable problems - like prosecuting war criminals for war crimes with like, y’know, evidence and such.

Tackling prohibative masculinity and redefining the entire child rearing process to avoid male socialization and reverse the imperial core, yeah, uh, kind of thin on practical sort of ways to oppose the war and bring the criminals to justice.
I’m not saying the guy is all wrong, but indeed, his methods are flawed.

This business about ‘needing’ a veteran to oppose the war (as nice as it is if they do) is a crock.
One doesn’t need to be a veteran to be immune to questioning about one’s patriotism. The proper answer to someone questioning your patriotism is “fuck you” not “I served.”
The simple fact that one is involved enough in the countrys affairs to warrant the attack shows patriotism.

There’s a difference between holding an opposing ideology and working for that and having a selfish agenda.
Flag burning as a metaphor here - same thing. I have no problem with U.S. citizens who burn the flag in protest. They’re involved. They are, in fact, respecting the flag as a symbol. They are using it as such. They are expressing opposition to a given idea about the U.S. And folks who fly the flag proudly have their idea that they respect and support. The folks I do have a problem with are the ones who neglect the flag or use it as a screen for their own agenda. I think that’s who Goff is (poorly) accusing.

But this business that because of his background he’s unimpeachable as an authority on these matters is no more reasonable than the opposite - asserting that because someone else wasn’t there they can’t criticise the war.

Although there’s no question there is social contention over the term “support the troops” and in one incarnation of it’s useage it is that loyalty oath thing. But that’s just one incarnation.
And the simple fact that so many servicemembers are coming out and speaking about the egregious nature of what’s been going on in Iraq I think speaks volumes about their bravery and virtue.

Eh, maybe he’s deliberately being provocative. The opposite of fanaticism is fanaticism. Lot of irrational pro-war nuts, I suppose there has to be some balance.
(Although individuals like Coulter strike me as disingenous - just using the issues as a stalking horse to make money - Goff appears to be in earnest which makes him far less execrable.)
posted by Smedleyman at 3:08 PM on July 12, 2007

Smedleyman says it pretty darn well. I'd only add that the youtube video is by no means unimpeachable as a source, ( I mean, easily faked,) and as to Goff's "male socialization in our imperial core" rheotric, I have two words: Lyndie England. Obviously, this is not a total refutation of his argument, but, in the linked article, there was precious little of that, it seems more a hobby horse, at least in this context.
posted by Snyder at 3:51 PM on July 12, 2007

I’ll also point out that special forces are not generally used as prison guards. That would not only be a waste of expertise, but a waste of the very aggressiveness one trains into trigger pullers.
(Although Abu Ghraib being as snafued as it was I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d had submariners running the place.)
Yeah, infantry. Special forces. They’re trained to kill. Prison guards, not so much.
If Goff was in Delta he had to have been particularly bloody handed. You don’t just fall into being a snake eater. Now he’s surprised that men who’s job it is to kill people are lacking in certain graces? Silly.
Want to argue that such men shouldn’t be trained into existance? Ok.
You don’t like a standing army? Fine.
But don’t hand me this crap that they’re suddenly bastards because they’re not killing the ‘right’ people - on their own initiative. Or that they are automatically the moral equivalent of war criminals merely because their attitudes are honed for killing. Moral uncertainty is for people who aren’t getting shot at right now.
The prison guard wasn’t constrained to do what he did. End of story.

If his attitude was such that he had dehumanized them so he could kill them without breaking down he shouldn’t have been a guard. He should have been in an infantry unit.
If his attitude was such that he felt that he could make some profit off of some sick scheme he shouldn’t have been in the military in the first place.
(Hell, I’d’ve cut his balls off and delivered him to the girl’s family. But I was just that kind of bastard.)

Similar to hunting. I will kill a deer (for food).
I’m not going to rape or humiliate the deer. The two attitudes are not at all equivalent merely because they are both violent.

It goes without saying that war criminals should be prosecuted and the flaws within the system that allows them to prosper should be remedied.

One could argue the system itself is flawed, but those kinds of remedies shouldn’t be predicated on one atrocity, nor should the onus for social change be placed on the military.
Civilian control and representative oversight is what is supposed to be taking place.
Crimes like this are the canary in the coal mine.
And the less that happens in response to a given event the more obvious the problem is.
The chain of responsibility leads up, although it has obviously been deflected in the case of Abu Ghraib.

But the intellectual/moral choice regarding Goff is simple - either Abu Ghraib was a crime, or it was the natural result of a social system which has created a violent organization - 1/2 of which is, by design, clinically insane and is predicated on rape, murder, and subjugation supported by a majority of citizens (and parents) within the United States and reiterated throughout western civilization.
Even if the latter is true - where does one turn in an indictment?

There’s no question the situation in Iraq is insane, that does not make everyone who serves a willing party to it, nor does it make them war criminals. Only their own acts can do that. The guard at Abu Ghraib? If the evidence substantiates those acts? He’s a fucking war criminal.

The only way to seek justice is to follow up the chain of command such that one can prosecute, on evidence, negligence, omission, dereliction of duty, or any other factor which can substantiate responsibility for, or contribution to, that crime.
(I think one could lay a charge on Rumsfeld if any of the higher ups were to get chatty. But you’d have to threaten them with indictment. And given what happened with Libby ...but that’d be a civilian leadership problem.)

*goes off to GMOFB*
posted by Smedleyman at 4:46 PM on July 12, 2007

But it just sounds to me like Goff has some daddy issues and wants to play them out on the big stage rather than actually defining and solving problems.

That made me laugh. I've had the same thought reading him before; patriarchy seems to be a recurring theme.

But this business that because of his background he’s unimpeachable as an authority on these matters is no more reasonable than the opposite - asserting that because someone else wasn’t there they can’t criticise the war.

I agree, and I'm not saying that. But when he says that in his experience this attitude was common in the people he served with, I don't have much reason to doubt him.

After I first watched the video, I wondered if maybe the guy wasn't bullshiting his friends with the story about the girl. I didn't want to believe it was true. But when someone with Goff's experience says he believes, that gives the story more weight. It's still not proof, of course. If I remember right, there was an investigation over the video with the guys taunting the kids with a water bottle after it circulated. The same thing should happen here.

And the simple fact that so many servicemembers are coming out and speaking about the egregious nature of what’s been going on in Iraq I think speaks volumes about their bravery and virtue.

I agree again. All the guys who were on Democracy Now today are perfect examples.
posted by homunculus at 5:23 PM on July 12, 2007

The only way to seek justice is to follow up the chain of command such that one can prosecute, on evidence, negligence, omission, dereliction of duty, or any other factor which can substantiate responsibility for, or contribution to, that crime.

Yeah, you're right. And of course it's not going to happen. The scapegoats have been sacrificed and the rest have moved on. Crap.
posted by homunculus at 5:34 PM on July 12, 2007

Similar to hunting. I will kill a deer (for food). I’m not going to rape or humiliate the deer.

And that's why you'll always be a loser.

Kidding! ;)
posted by homunculus at 5:38 PM on July 12, 2007

“And of course it's not going to happen. The scapegoats have been sacrificed and the rest have moved on.”

See that’s the thing that I think is lacking in Goff’s writing. There’s a sense of the moral rectitude of the oppressed.
Oh, not that I’m disputing your assessment. I suspect that it is what is going to happen. However it isn’t what should happen (obviously we all agree there), but more importantly - it’s a point worth pushing.
If we pass all this off onto too broad an issue - patriarchy or what have you - the focus on the crime gets lost and we relinquish our responsibility to pursue justice in favor of maintaining the social moral high ground.
Anyone can stand some adversity, the true test of a person’s character is when they hold power.
We need to hold our leaders accountable. If we can’t do that we need to change the system so future leaders can’t take advantage of it in the same way. If we can’t do that we need to choose leaders who will change things. If we can’t do that, then we need to choose leaders who won’t take advantage of the system.
If we can’t even do that than we can’t call ourselves patriots or even citizens.
The point isn’t winning the argument or shoving the pro-war folks face in their mistakes. I mean you have those idiot women with the purple heart band-aids making a mockery of wounded vets, the shitheads with the purple dyed fingers -etc. etc. - but confronting them (as Goff asserts - to counter the “bad apple” rhetoric) doesn’t matter. That’s not the fight.
The fight is holding leadership accountable to the will of the people and their constraints within the consitution and the law.
Hell, look at the President’s war powers - that’s all based on bluff and congress looking the other way. Machiavelli 101 - just trying to convince people he has power he isn’t truly delegated. And if people believe it - voila’ - he has it.
The fight is reminding people that it is they who hold the power and - more importantly - getting them to use it.
The first step there is to presume the ability to do what is right and legal and redress wrongdoing such as occured at Abu Ghraib.
People should expect heads to roll and be outraged when they don’t and assume they themselves have the power to get the ball rolling. Which, actually, they do.

Deer are kinda sexy....
posted by Smedleyman at 8:59 AM on July 13, 2007

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